|NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Sharon and I just got back from Europe, where I was visiting churches and museums in connection with our Southern Seminary program in Christianity and the Arts -- from Bayeux to Barcelona, from Lourdes to Lisbon. Along the way, we met three "Good Samaritans" and one really bad one.
The bad one surfaced in Barcelona, on the fourth day of our trip. We'd visited the exotic Sagrada Familia Cathedral and the Museum of Contemporary Art, and we were making our way out of town toward Madrid. But then came the dreaded hum of a flat tire.
Right away, one of the many (seemingly insane) motorcyclists on the road pulled up beside us to tell us the bad news, and he gestured for us to turn right onto a less crowded road. We did so, and then he rode off with a wave. Though I was rusty, I was able to wrestle the jack and "donut" out of the trunk and change the tire.
About two-thirds of the way through the process, a man walked up and gave us repeated instructions in Spanish about how to access a mechanic down the way. We thanked him and finished up, only to discover that while he had us looking one way, he and (we assume) another scoundrel had grabbed billfold and purse from our open car, making off with cash, iPad, jewelry, credit cards and passports.
And later we learned that the motorcyclist was the one who gave us the flat, stabbing the sidewall at a red light. (We've traveled to all sorts of challenging places, from Khartoum to the Amazon basin to the far reaches of Indonesia, but never encountered the likes of the notorious and quite skillful thieves of Barcelona.)
We managed to find our way to a police station, contact the consulate (where we met other Americans with their own victim stories), coordinate with the credit card companies, and solicit "wired" cash from family. It all worked out, but at considerable wear and tear. What began as a tourist experience became an adventure, with both breakthroughs and frustrations, especially in finding places to retrieve sent cash. We'd moved from touring to surviving.
As shocking as the Barcelona heist was, we were just as astonished at acts of peculiar kindness by Good Samaritans. Of course, there were many helpful people along our path, some just doing their job, others showing unpaid courtesy. But three were standouts.
First, before we lost the cards, we had a very long day of driving, from the medieval cathedral in Chartres, up to Omaha Beach, over to Mont St. Michel, and down to Nantes.
By the time we got there, it was past midnight, and it's a lot harder than we remembered to find a hotel after hours in France. Wandering and inquiring, we arrived very late at one of those automated hotels, where you check in by swiping your card at the door, getting a code, and then letting yourself in to both hotel and room. But our American credit cards didn't work, and we were fast approaching wits' end.
Then a French couple with their daughter walked up. They were probably as tired as we were, but they jumped in immediately to help us explore all the options -- various cards, stripe left, stripe right, swipe fast, swipe slow, push this button first, push this button later ... but nothing. Then I asked if we might use their card and then reimburse them with cash -- a suggestion they accepted immediately. Though it was 3:00 a.m., we were total strangers, and I was relying on my high school French, they rescued us. Continued...